Reviewed by L.D.Y.
Hardcover (available in trade), 225 pages, 2003
Reason for Reading: Saw it when I was glancing through The Toronto Star looking for new releases.
Synopsis: A collection of five short stories (“Lucky Girls,” “The Orphan,” “Outside the Eastern Gate,” “The Tutor,” and “Letter from the Last Bastion”), mainly dealing with love, both romantic and between various members of a family. A lot of the stories are also complicated by bringing Eastern and Western cultures together.
Why you should read this book: An excellent collection, more impressive considering it is Freudenberger’s debut. Not a fan of short stories? That’s alright, because each story reads more like a novella, with the concentration on telling a good story rather than infusing everything with the cryptic symbolism many of us loathed deciphering in high school. Freudenberger does a great job with the mainly 20-something characters, giving them honest and interesting voices. The stories feel loosely connected without being too similar.
Why you should avoid this book: There’s a bit of predictability to a few of the stories. A bit of uneven writing in a few spots, as well.
I had often imagined meeting Mrs. Chawla, Arun’s mother. It would be in a restaurant, and I would be wearing a sophisticated blue suit that my mother had sent me soon after I moved to India, and Mrs. Chawla would not be able to keep herself from admiring it. Of course, in those fantasies Arun was always there with me.
Alice has never seen Jeff cross a room so fast. He’s behind Mandy in a second, before she can touch the door. His arms are around her, and he’s leaning over her shoulder. He whispers something. Alice looks at Josh, who’s embarrassed too, playing with the label on the little green bottle.
‘No,’ Mandy says. She starts to struggle, but Jeff is pining her arms to her sides. She kicks and it’s only the rubber shoe, but he has to step back, still holding her – she’s twisting quietly, and now Alice can see her face and her eyes are shut.
What would the night manager think if he were to come into their room right now? Would he focus on the man and the girl fighting in front of the door, or the others staying still? Would he recognize the struggle as something that happens in every home – in his own home – or would he back out of the room, in his neat suit, disgusted by their ugly, foreign habits?
He’d resolved immediately to return the sweater, and then he had looked in the mirror. What he saw surprised him: someone small but good-looking, with fine features and dark, intense eyes, the kind of guy a girl – an American girl – might find attractive.
And he wanted one of those: there was no use pretending he didn’t. He watched them from his first-floor window, as close as fish in an aquarium tank. They hurried past him, laughing and calling out to one another, in their boys’ clothes: boots, T-shirts with cryptic messages, jeans worn low and tight across the hips. You thought of the panties underneath those jeans, and in the laundry room you often saw those panties: impossibly sheer, in incredible colors, occasionally, delightfully torn. The girls folding their laundry next to him were entirely different from the ones at home. They were clearly free to do whatever they wanted – a possibility that had often hit him, in class or the library or on the historic brick walkways of the Radcliffe Quad, so intensely that he had to stop and take a deep breath, as if he were on the point of blacking out.
Also recommended: The Vine of Desire by Chitra Divakaruni; Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller; Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller.
Also by this author: The Dissident.
Â© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007